When a boomer writes about a boomer, it’s of interest to us here at BoomerCafé. Especially when the man who’s reviewing the boomer who writes about a boomer is a boomer himself. That’s Gary Carter of Asheville, North Carolina, who sees the everyman in all of us in Richard Ford’s newest novel.
If you’re a Boomer, then the literary character Frank Bascombe is one of us, and it’s nice to have him back pondering the past, fretting about the future, and coping with an unsettled present. His creator, Richard Ford, has somewhat begrudgingly returned Frank to us in Let Me Be Frank With You, continuing a life started nearly 30 years ago in The Sportswriter (1986), picked up again in the Pulitzer-winning Independence Day (1995), and seemingly wound down in The Lay of the Land (2006). But there always seemed something left dangling in a tangled life marked by sorrow, loss, moments of joy, hopes, longings, failure, and success.
And so now Ford returns to his everyman in response to requests from readers, but also to touch on “the consequences of a hurricane that the media wouldn’t pay attention to.” The storm is Hurricane Sandy, and in its disorienting aftermath Frank realizes nothing is here to stay. He’s now 68, still living in New Jersey, contentedly married, retired from selling real estate, and troubled by both the liberations and challenges of creeping age. In four interconnected novellas, Frank deals with his “new normal,” awakens to the need to savor the little moments, even accepts that less is more. He’s not always lovable in his comments and actions, but that’s what makes him believable.
Frank is first drawn back with some trepidation to the Jersey shore by Arnie, who wants him to see the scattered remains of his beach house. For Frank, it’s also a return home -– the ruined house is one he lived in and then sold to Arnie who now wryly observes, “Everything could be worse, Frank.”
Then a woman mysteriously appears at Frank’s house, telling him she once lived there. Frank acts as willing host and discovers an unsettling history that leads to an unexpected moment of understanding between two strangers.
Frank’s previous life remains open for examination as he dutifully visits his ex-wife, who’s now dealing with Parkinson’s in a soulless “state-of-the-art staged care facility.” Drawn again into contact with a woman he loved and suffered with through the loss of a child, Frank can’t avoid sensing the “faint, rich whiff of our old life long ago.”
Finally, he makes a reluctant pilgrimage to encounter a dying man, once a friend but devolved into mere acquaintance. For Frank, it’s a face-to-face encounter with what lies ahead, combined with an unwanted confession.
Through it all, the author Ford ably fuels the unmistakable voice of his signature character who ruminates wittily and wisely about family, friendship, love, and the general mysteries of life. Frank has been through a great deal in his existence, yet he continues to wonder about things, revamp his conclusions, and muddle onward. As he says, “In my view, we have only what we did yesterday, what we do today, and what we might still do.” Truth enough, as Richard Ford again brings his deft touch, humor, and seamless style to consideration of the everyday things that Boomers understand define us as human.